This paper reports the preliminary results of a study of the software maintenance process in the Flight Dynamics Division (FDD) of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration/Goddard Space Flight Center (NASA/GSFC). This study is being conducted by the Software Engineering Laboratory (SEL), a research organization sponsored by the Software Engineering Branch of the FDD, which investigates the effectiveness of software engineering technologies when applied to the development of applications software. This software maintenance study began in October 1993 and is being conducted using the Quality Improvement Paradigm (QIP), a process improvement strategy based on three iterative steps: understanding, assessing, and packaging. The preliminary results represent the outcome of the understanding phase, during which SEL researchers characterized the maintenance environment, product, and process. Findings indicate that a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis is effective for studying the software maintenance process, that additional measures should be collected for maintenance (as opposed to new development), and that characteristics such as effort, error rate, and productivity are best considered on a 'release' basis rather than on a project basis. The research thus far has documented some basic differences between new development and software maintenance. It lays the foundation for further application of the QIP to investigate means of improving the maintenance process and product in the FDD.